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Why do participants in our CAD (Word and PDF) and Advanced PDF training sessions believe it is much more difficult or fear attempting to make a PDF document accessible? What makes PDF documents seem much worse than other formats? If I had to put it into one word, it would have to be ‘familiarity’.

When I ask people in my team whether they would rather work on an accessible Word or an accessible PDF document, the overwhelming majority will answer PDF every time. This is because turnaround times on PDF documents are often faster, there are fewer errors for me to fix when proofing, and there are no compromises between client and accessibility (as long as the colour contrast is sufficient). The more they do, the more they prefer working on PDFs.

I find HTML accessibility more difficult than PDF accessibility because I make PDF documents accessible all the time and never work on HTML accessibility. Also, people have been using Word for years, so the ‘easy’ things are things they have done before (or know they can do), and the ‘hard’ things are things they hadn’t done before or didn’t know they could do. Therefore, it makes sense that if you haven’t ‘tagged’ before and maybe aren’t sure what is possible, everything will be new (read: hard).

Accessible PDF documents allow the documents you are already creating (e.g. for print) to work for people who prefer digital over print. Having 1 document that works for everyone is easier than making 2 different documents in 2 different ways to say the same thing. Learning how to make that 1 document for a digital audience, which is exactly the same end product that works for your print audience, is easier again than making the document for print and retrofitting it for digital.

When comparing PDF to Word, many more can be made accessible in PDF format. Accessible Word documents don’t support a variety of layout options and content types, and the level of support goes way lower if your audience doesn’t have a paid subscription to Office 365. In addition, organisations often look for visually striking documents, which isn’t always possible to achieve in a Word-only format. PDF documents are designed to look the same no matter which system you open them in, so there is no risk that a reader won’t have an option to open a PDF.

So, if your job requires you to create or review documents created by others, learning the ‘new’ way of doing things once, instead of the ‘easy’ way of doing things more than once, doesn’t seem ‘hard’ for long.

Alex Bey is the general manager of Tagged PDF, our exclusive partner in document accessibility.

In addition, Alex is the facilitator for our accessible documents training courses, including Advanced Creating Accessible Documents: Adobe PDF.